Published in 1994, a year after Brian Mulroney left office after nearly a decade in power, On the Take is investigative journalist Stevie Cameron’s blistering account of the corruption of the Mulroney years. Told with the verve (and the glee) of a thriller, On the Take, with its details of backroom deals and shady hangers-on, was the final nail in the coffin of the old Progressive Conservative Party.
When On the Take came out in 1994, it made author Stevie Cameron a household name in Canada. Her book’s revelations about the rampant corruption and petty greed of Brian Mulroney’s decade in the prime minister’s office reverberated for many years in the Canadian political landscape and helped destroy his Progressive Conservative Party. (The party, one of Canada’s most venerable, never recovered from Mulroney’s stewardship and eventually merged with the Canadian Alliance Party.) Cameron, one of the country’s leading investigative reporters, was one of the few reporters to consistently question and probe the corruption of the Mulroney years. She has a wonderful ear for storytelling, which helps make On the Take a page-turner. Cameron seems to rejoice in recounting the numerous unseemly episodes of the Mulroney administration and depicting all its seedy characters and hangers-on. Mulroney comes across as having been most comfortable in a powerbroker’s backrooms, surrounding himself with dodgy bagmen and devious lobbyists. Cameron suggests that the country was “open for business,” with a “for sale” sign on the front lawn. She writes that even in their final official act, as the Mulroneys departed from office in disgrace amid record-low popularity ratings, they tried to stiff taxpayers into buying their used furniture.
If On the Take can be faulted, it’s because it feels a tad partisan. The implication seems to be that Mulroney was somehow much worse than other Canadian leaders–when, in fact, the subsequent regime of Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was also marred by many corruption scandals. Cameron does a fine job of exposing Mulroney, but she seems to blame corruption too much on personality rather than any deeper, systemic causes. That said, On the Take is still a classic of Canadian nonfiction and a masterful depiction of how power is wielded in Ottawa. –Alex Roslin